This past November, Stuart Allison, biology professor, Rob Smith, English professor, and Tim Kasser, psychology professor, were promoted to the rank of full professor, the highest position awarded to currently-teaching faculty members.
“Coupling expertise in their field with effective teaching—that’s the combination we try to bring to Knox,” said Dean of the College Lawrence Breitborde. “In this case, we’d already heard the student reviews and observed each candidate’s sustained excellence in the classroom.”
The final step in the assessment process for Breitborde, President Taylor and the personnel committee was to send off samples of each professor’s scholarly work to be peer-reviewed. After receiving the peer reviews, they made the decision in late November, with Taylor being the first to tell each professor individually.
“To hear some of the praise that scholars unaffiliated with Knox had for these guys’ work obviously sealed the deal,” said Breitborde. “Of course we already knew—or suspected—we had a special group here.”
Of Allison, who is director of the Green Oaks biological field station as well as chair of the biology department, Breitborde recalls a peer review saying, “His work on prairie restoration is among the best in his field, especially in conveying to the public the importance of the projects.”
Allison grew up in Monmouth where his father was a professor of biology, eventually leaving to attend the University of Puget Sound. His family has lived in Western Illinois for five generations.
“Knox has been good to me and I think I’ve been good for Knox,” Allison said of his promotion. “To receive the recognition and reach the top certainly makes a difference.”
Added Allison, who earned his doctorate from University of California-Berkeley and came to Knox in 1997, “It’s great for Kasser and Smith.”
For Smith, the quote from the peer-reviews that stuck in Breitborde’s mind was, “this guy is already making huge contributions to the study of American Literature.”
In addition to his scholarship on authors such as Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Stoddard, Smith has also steadily published fiction since coming to Knox in 1996. He won the Scotsman and Orange Short Story Award in 2004.
Smith, is currently on sabbatical, set to return to teaching again next term.
Kasser is a recognized expert in his field. His studies on the relationship between materialism and well-being—or lack thereof—have received significant national press. A frequent contributor to psychological journals, Kasser has appeared in the New York Times, Time, and in other notable publications.
When the decision was made, Kasser was actually in Thailand giving a series of talks on Buddhist economics and consumerism, one of which was canceled due to protesters taking over the airports there. Traveling with his 11-year old son, Kasser got word of his promotion when he saw the congratulatory emails of his colleagues and Taylor. His son and he did not do anything noteworthy to celebrate Kasser said.
“I’m of course pleased that my colleagues and the administration feel that my record of scholarship, teaching, and service to Knox was deserving of promotion to full professor,” he said. “I’m happy they feel that I’ve contributed to the college.”
The 1994 recipient of a doctorate from University of Rochester, Kasser resumes teaching again in the spring for what will be his 14th year at Knox. He is currently on unpaid leave, finishing up some projects.
As an academic, Breitborde was excited for these professors.
“It’s a great feeling to see someone you had a part in hiring make it all the way to the top,” said Breitborde, who came to Knox at the same time as Kasser, and who oversaw the bringing in of Smith and Allison. “We try to hire people who we can celebrate with in 12 or so years.”